hieroglyphs and syllabic writing systems

Carved hieroglyphs image

Egyptian hieroglyphs carved into stone

At about the time of the emergence of cuneiform the Egyptians were developing their own writing system. Consisting of characters called hieroglyphs (from the Greek, meaning “sacred carving”), they were possibly based on pictograms, ideograms and rebus devices.

The pyramids of Egypt contain an awesome array of well-preserved hieroglyphs and we have learnt much about the Egyptians from the writings in their temples and tombs. The symbols used eventually came to represent syllables and thus far the written language shared the syllabic aspect with Mesopotamia and Babylon.

Phoenician Alphabet image

Phoenician Alphabet

Around 3500 years ago the Phoenicians refined the Egyptian hieroglyphs into a set of consonants – the vowels were omitted as they were considered implicit – to suit their own syllabic writing system.

By now we can begin to see the emergence of symbols related to sounds in the spoken language, rather than pictorial, word-based representation. There are many benefits in using this system, not least because you can be much more specific about ideas and notions than mere representation of the concept as a whole.

Greeks & Romans →